Stockholm archipelago – Outstanding natural beauty

Just 20 minutes from Stockholm, a world of 30,000 islands begins. Huong Bergström took a trip to Stockholm archipelago to explore this unique area of rugged nature and ancient villages.

Click here to read the article in .pdf file on TimeOut 9/2017.

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I took a short visit to Stockholm archipelago after attending the Stockholm Internet Forum 2017. A catch-up with old friends at Torkels Terrass bar, a ten second walk from Münchenbryggeriet, started my jaunt in the heart of Scandinavia. The best time to visit Stockholm is from May to September, when the warm temperatures are perfect for spending time outdoors. The city looks fantastic in the summer evenings, when everywhere from downtown to uptown sparkles in the golden sunlight. We strolled along Katarinavägen, not taking our eyes off the priceless panoramic view of Skeppsholmen and Djurgården on the Saltsjön bay. Stockholm is one of the North European canal cities known as the ‘Venice of the North’.

We dined at Hermans Vegetarian Restaurant, located at the end of Katarinavägen. The vintage decor and classic menu complemented the early summer atmosphere when billions of tiny flowers poured down from the old trees, and herring gulls flapped their wings while crying noisily. We discussed potential destinations during our buffet dinner.

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The next day we jumped on a Västan boat at noon, after packing some sandwiches and juice for a picnic in Vaxholm – the seat of Vaxholm municipality. As one of the four biggest towns of the county of Stockholm, spanning over 64 islets and owning a central location, Vaxholm municipality calls itself “the capital of the archipelago”. The town is easily accessible year round by bus or boat. Once you have reached Stockholm City, go to Strömkajen ferry terminal and purchase a ticket to Vaxholm or a pass for island hopping at Waxholmsbolaget. A single trip costs SEK 50 – 150, a five day island hopping pass is SEK 445, or SEK 790 for 30 days.  The flexible timetable makes island hopping possible, even during a day trip. Six boats travel daily between Stockholm and Vaxholm, each taking 75 minutes, with the first leaving Stockholm at 12:00 and the last leaving Vaxholm at 20:00. The app Waxholmsbolaget helped us manage our journey more easily.

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Our boat left Saltsjön bay, heading to the immense Baltic Sea where idyll houses set amongst green woods stand in harmony with the deep blue water. Sweden has more than 220,000 islands and islets, of which around a thousand are inhabited, and some are too large and well-commuted to be thought of as islands. The gentle sea water makes the islands here fantastic places for private holiday cottages. Swedish decor is delicate and tasteful, and the accommodation creates a picturesque scene.

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Vaxholm’s typical pastel-coloured wooden houses came into sight when the boat reached Norrhamnen harbour. A direct walk from the harbour was Waxholm Hotel, where we celebrated the sunny day with ice creams at the outdoor cafeteria. It’s the perfect spot for a wedding party, midsummer festival or Christmas vacation.

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Vaxholm was established in 1558 and became a popular spa town during the 19th century. The wealthy residents of Stockholm came down and built many wooden summer houses, lending the city a breathtaking beauty. Today Vaxholm is a famous destination for archipelago explorers, with so much on offer for lovers of the outdoors, from hiking to cycling, swimming in the sea, walking on the beach, playing ocean sports or simply enjoying the beautiful coastline. Swimming in the Baltic Sea is quite safe wherever there are signs indicating so. Its brackish waters contribute to limiting the diversity of marine life, yet more than 30 species of cartilaginous fish including sharks and rays have been recorded in the Baltic Sea.

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A yellow cable ferry took us to Vaxholm Castle – a military fortress constructed by King Gustav Vasa to defend Stockholm in the mid-16th century. Situated on a separate islet some ten meters from Waxholm Hotel terminal, the fortress guards the inlet to Stockholm and marks its victorious history against the Danes in 1612 and the Russians in 1719. Today it serves as a tourist attraction with a museum, the Kastellet Bed & Breakfast, Pansarbatteriet restaurant, and adventure games. Accommodation options in the archipelago include hotels and campsites. To really experience the archipelago atmosphere, head to some of the less developed islands and pitch a tent – in Sweden you can legally camp in any public place. Being well-prepared with warm clothes, drinking water, canned food and other essentials is vital.

Back in Stockholm where the sunset afterglow still covered half of the Royal Palace building, we headed to Magnum Pleasure Store where we blended our own ice cream recipe and ate it smothered with hot chocolate sauce and hand-picked toppings. My travel companion chose the ultimate salty experience: sea salt and salty crushed nuts. Finishing the night at the sky bar of Birger Jarl boat hotel, my mind was back at the archipelago, chasing the lapping waves and rock ledges out in the ocean.

Text & photos by Huong Bergström